Nurses facing threats, judgment for being out in public


AUSTIN (KXAN) — They’ve been called the “front line” in the fight against COVID-19, but nurses and other health care professionals are now facing another threat.

KXAN has received several tips about nurses being judged, harassed or even threatened for being out in public after their shifts, accused of “spreading coronavirus.”

The Texas Nurses Association said they’ve heard these reports as well, and they are working to address them.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said TNA’s Director of Practice Serena Bumpus. “They’re out there. They’re working. They are taking care of human beings who aren’t allowed to have any family in the room with them, and providing them the same type of love and compassion that their spouse, or their siblings or their children would provide to them. To be faced with that type of public scrutiny is just very heartbreaking.”

In Oklahoma, authorities are investigating a report of a nurse being shot at while wearing scrubs at a gas station. The scare prompted several medical systems in the area to change their policies and encourage health care workers to not wear scrubs, lab coats or badges in public.

Bumpus said she has not heard any reported threats of that magnitude in Texas, but she has heard about people making comments towards nurses or giving them “funny looks” that made them uncomfortable.

“The life of a nurse is very different than your Monday to Friday, 8-to-5 job,” Bumpus said. “I think we have to be mindful of the fact that they don’t have your traditional hours where they have weekends off to do things or can go do things like shopping during the day.”

Bumpus also emphasized the fact that health care professionals are generally the “most conscientious” about germs but sometimes wearing scrubs is unavoidable.

“I would be surprised if any of them wanted to wear their scrubs out in public ‘just because,'” she said. “They are doing it because that’s what they have to do to take care of their families.”

Before the pandemic, she explained, most health care professionals would often wear their scrubs coming to and from the workplace. Now, they are seeing that practice happening less.

“Most of the nurses who go into the grocery store in their scrubs are not the nurses who are taking care of patients with COVID-19,” she said. “They [the hospitals] are identifying a specific group of nurses, and they are cohorting nurses as well, to take care of that specific patient population, so they don’t increase the risk of spreading the virus to other health care providers.”

Bumpus said most hospitals are allowing the nurses working with COVID-19 patients to shower before they leave the facility and bag up their scrubs, so they can “come home in clean clothes.”

She has also heard about nurses creating “hot zones” in their homes.

Neighbors are starting a movement to tie a white ribbon around a tree in support of health care workers (Photo: Serena Bumpus)

“They’re undressing and taking their scrubs off in that zone, putting them in a container or plastic bag, and then taking them into their homes to wash them,” Bumpus explained.

Others have even chosen to stay in hotels or away from family altogether.

For the most part, though, Bumpus said the response and support from the community has been “overwhelming.”

“It takes a lot out of you, and our nurses are just incredible,” she said.

They are encouraging people to tie a white ribbon out in front of their homes to show a sign of “hope and solidarity” for health care workers.

TNA also encourages nurses to utilize its TNA Helpline. Click here for more details.

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